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Matt Ridley Calls On Jeffrey Sachs To Apologise

Matt Ridley, The Rational Optimist

Apologise and admit that nothing in your article contradicts anything in mine, that we merely disagree on the predictions of dangerous warming, and I will consider the matter closed.

My recent op-ed in the Wall Street Journal addressed the latest explanations for the “pause” in global warming and their implications. I have responded to an ill-informed critique of the article below. […]

After the article was published, an astonishing tweet was sent by the prominent economist Jeffrey Sachs saying

“Ridley climate ignorance in WSJ today is part of compulsive lying of Murdoch media gang. Ridley totally misrepresents the science.”

Curious to know how I had lied or “totally misrepresented” the science, I asked Sachs to explain. There was a deafening silence.

There then appeared at the Huffington Post (a media outlet owned by a person with strong views, by the way) an article under Sachs’s name. Its style was quite unlike that of Sachs, and strongly resembled the style and debating technique of a spin doctor employed by Lord Stern at the London School of Economics, who writes to newspapers furiously denouncing the author of any article on climate change that he does not like. Indeed that same spin doctor, Bob Ward, alerted me to the Huff Post article in a tweet. The piece purported to — in the spin doctor’s words — expose

“The Wall Street Journal Parade of Climate Lies –  destroys daft article in@WSJ”.

However, it does nothing of the sort. It’s all bluster and careful misdirection, and contradicts nothing in my article, let alone producing evidence against of lies. Paragraph by paragraph, I will expose its daftness, which truly shocked me given that I had respect for Jeffrey Sachs as a scholar before reading this. Here are the key paragraphs:

Ridley’s “smoking gun” is a paper last week in Science Magazine by two scientists Xianyao Chen and Ka-Kit Tung, which Ridley somehow believes refutes all previous climate science. Ridley quotes a sentence fragment from the press release suggesting that roughly half of the global warming in the last three decades of the past century (1970-2000) was due to global warming and half to a natural Atlantic Ocean cycle. He then states that “the man-made warming of the past 20 years has been so feeble that a shifting current in one ocean was enough to wipe it out altogether,” and “That to put the icing on the case of good news, Xianyao Chen and Ka-Kit Tung think the Atlantic Ocean may continue to prevent any warming for the next two decades.”

Notice the quote marks around “smoking gun”, implying that I used the phrase. I did not. In any case, the Chen and Tung paper was only one of the pieces of evidence I cited.

The Wall Street Journal editors don’t give a hoot about the nonsense they publish if it serves their cause of fighting measures to limit human-induced climate change. If they had simply gone online to read the actual paper, they would have found that the paper’s conclusions are the very opposite of Ridley’s.

In his writing the real Mr Sachs does not often use phrases like “don’t give a hoot”.

In any case, he’s plain wrong about the contradiction. The quote I gave from the press release is accurate. And I have read the paper and can assure Mr “Sachs” that its conclusions are not the opposute of what I have said. As further confirmation, how about asking the paper’s lead author himself? This is what he wrote to Professor Judith Curry in response to her questions:

Dear Judy,

The argument on the roughly 50-50 attribution of the forced vs unforced warming for the last two and half decades of the 20th century is actually quite simple. If one is blaming internal variability for canceling out the anthropogenically forced warming during the current hiatus, one must admit that the former is not negligible compared to the latter, and the two are probably roughly of the same magnitude. Then when the internal cycle is of the different sign in the latter part of the 20th century, it must have added to the forced response. Assuming the rate of forced warming has not changed during the period concerned, then the two combined must be roughly twice the forced warming during the last two and half decades of the 20th century.

In other words, as I said, the warming of 1975-2000 was only half caused by man-made emissions and half by natural causes, and natural causes were enough to cancel man-made forcing in the years after 2000.

To continue with the “Sachs” article:

First, the paper makes perfectly clear that the Earth is warming in line with standard climate science, and that the Earth’s warming is unabated in recent years. In the scientific lingo of the paper (it’s very first line, so Ridley didn’t have far to read!), “Increasing anthropogenic greenhouse-gas-emissions perturb Earth’s radiative equilibrium, leading to a persistent imbalance at the top of the atmosphere (TOA) despite some long-wave radiative adjustment.” In short, we humans are filling the atmosphere with carbon dioxide from fossil-fuel use, and we are warming the planet.

Mr “Sachs” did not have far to read in my own article to find this is in complete agreement with what I wrote also:

I’ve long thought that man-made carbon-dioxide emissions will raise global temperatures, but that this effect will not be amplified much by feedbacks from extra water vapor and clouds, so the world will probably be only a bit more than one degree Celsius warmer in 2100 than today.

Instead of using words like “unabated” why not give numbers? I did.

The warming during 1975-2000, even if you cherry-pick the end points, was about 0.4 degrees C if you average the five main global data sets, and if half of that was natural, then man-made forcing was going at the rate of less than 1 degree per century, rather less than what i said.

Second, the total warming is distributed between the land and ocean surface on the one hand and the ocean deep water on the other. The total rise of ocean heat content has continued unabated, while the proportion of heat absorbed at the surface and in the deeper ocean varies over time. Again, in the scientific lingo of the paper, “[T]his forced total OHC [ocean heat content] should be increasing monotonically over longer periods even through the current period of slowed warming. In fact, that expectation is verified by observation …”. In other words, the ocean has continued to warm in line with predictions of just such a phenomenon seen in climate models.

This is highly misleading. Yes, as I clearly stated in my article, the ocean could start to transfer heat to the air again. So the quote from the paper does not contradict me at all. In any case, remember, the data on ocean heat content is highly ambiguous. As Judith Curry summarised it recently:

The main issue of interest is to what extent can ocean heat sequestration explain the hiatus since 1998.  The only data set that appears to provide support for ocean sequestration is the ocean reanalysis, with the Palmer and Domingues 0-700 m OHC climatology providing support for continued warming in the upper ocean.

All in all, I don’t see a very convincing case for deep ocean sequestration of heat.  And even if the heat from surface heating of the ocean did make it into the deep ocean, presumably the only way for this to happen involves mixing (rather than adiabatic processes), so it is very difficult to imagine how this heat could reappear at the surface in light of the 2nd law of thermodynamics.

Back to the Sachs article:

Third, it is the “vertical distribution” of the warming, between the surface and deep water, which affects the warming observed on land and at the sea surface. The point of the paper is that the allocation of the warming vertically varies over time, sometimes warming the surface rapidly, other times warming the deeper ocean to a great extent and the surface water less rapidly. According to the paper, the period of the late 20th century was a period in which the surface was warmed relative to the deeper ocean. The period since 2000 is the opposite, with more warming of the deeper ocean. How do the scientists know? They measure the ocean temperature at varying depths with a sophisticated system of “Argo profiling floats,” which periodically dive into the ocean depths to take temperature readings and resurface to transmit them to the data centers.

I have no problem with this paragraph, which merely reiterates what i said about the Chen and Tung paper, with a bit more detail about the Argo floats etc.

So, what is Ridley’s “smoking gun” when you strip away his absurd version of the paper? It goes like this. The Earth is continuing to warm just as greenhouse gas theory holds.

Check, I agree. But the atmosphere is not continuing to warm right now.

The warming heats the land and the ocean. The ocean distributes some of the warming to the surface waters and some to the deeper waters, depending on the complex circulation of ocean waters.

Check. Could not have said it better myself.

The shares of warming of the surface and deeper ocean vary over time, in fluctuations that can last a few years or a few decades.


Where’s the contradiction with what I wrote? There is none. If Mr “Sachs” had bothered to read my article properly, he would find that his description of what is happening is pretty well exactly the same as mine. […]

Again, I said, that warming may well resume. The only disagreement is whether it will be devastating, and that is a prediction not an empirical fact. I cannot yet be “wrong” about it.

When, Oh when, will Mr “Sachs” get around to including a number, any number. He surely cannot be under the impression that lukewarmers like me think there is no greenhouse effect? He surely knows that the argument is not about whether there is warming, but how fast.

And where did I lie, or misrepresent? Where, Mr Ward, did he “destroy” me, pray? He did not.

Mr “Sachs”, who is usually a careful academic, has published a lot of wild accusations against me and “totally” (his word) failed to stand them up. How did this come about? Perhaps, being a busy man, he asked somebody else to ghost-write much of the piece for him and did not check it very thoroughly. If so, no problem, a quick tweet apologising to me and admitting that nothing in his article contradicts anything in mine, that we merely disagree on the predictions of dangerous warming, and I will consider the matter closed.

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